Wednesday, April 27

Space + Environment Brief Assignment

We've been asked to write our own brief as an assignment for my program--that is, a description for an animation project we might receive as part of our course. It must be based on the idea of Space and Environment. Here's mine:

Animation & Interactive Media RMIT Concept Development 
PROJECT BRIEF:  Space + Environment Brief
Keywords: explore, discover, challenge, environment, evocation, environment, embedding, emergency, node, codification, creation, backdrop, layering, depth.


The goal of this brief is to create an animation or interactive work that uses space and/or environment as its protagonistic element. A successful response to this brief will ask the user or viewer to think about the space in which the work exists while they are experiencing it. An unsuccessful response will 


Exploring the ideas of space and environment in an animation or interactive has many functions. Space and environment can, among other things, be used as a means to:

a) Challenge the player or viewer by asking them to navigate or comprehend it as an obstacle or puzzle.
b) Give the player or viewer room to express themselves or be affected by the animation/interactive.
c) Organize a work by dividing it into different zones or distinguishable features.
d) Give the player or viewer a system or world in which the rest of the work exists, thus allowing them to decode certain elements.
e) Enable the player or viewer to create a structure in which the work exists.
f) Set the scene.

Making the space or environment in your work an integrated element allows that work to become a more completely unified idea. If your environment and the other elements in your animation/interactive are working together to enhance the user/viewer experience, they will both benefit many times over, and the world of your work will become more real and consistent/persistent.


Your animation may be any complete work which addresses the idea of space and environment as its primary or protagonist element. It may contain other elements apart from that space, but they can only be in service of the viewer experiencing the "world" or "structure" of the work. For example:

Consider the rpg flash game grOw, in which the user must cause an environment to evolve in steps by choosing the order in which they add elements. In this interactive, the environment is the protagonist, which the user is always watching, and the characters are merely devices which interact with the user-generated space. Another example of a game which does this successfully is This Is The Only Level.

The flash game Canabalt, on the other hand, would not be an example of an environment being a protagonist, since our focus is on a character who is, while very well integrated into his environment, separate from it and the most important element. One might argue that it is merely a matter of perspective. But there is a huge difference between a game in which the player is acting as a runner exploring a destroyed space, and one in which the player is acting as the city, causing the runner to react to it by cueing environments, as they must in games like Solopskier.

As far as animations which successfully use environment as a protagonist, be sure to have a look at Walk Smash Walk, or The Scale of the Universe.

There are a few requirements for your project:

1) If it is an animation, it needs to be at least 15 seconds in length, and the character needs to interact with the environment in some way.
2) If it is an interactive, the user must be able to change the environment in some way, however impermanent.
3) There must be at least one character and one environment/space. Consistent visual design between these two elements is one way in which you will be assessed.

You will be assessed based on:

1) The visual/idealogical consistency between your character and environment/space.
2) The degree to which you are able to make your environment your protagonist and main character.
3) The degree to which you are able to stretch the user/viewer's ideas about conventional environments. Surprise people!


Submit the project to the server, or provide another means by which the lecturer can access your work.

Clearly, interactives and animations will use different media and different formats. Preferably, however, the viewing area for your animation should be 1280x720 resolution.

Submit with submission form by: __________.

Tuesday, April 26

Once more into the brief.

Yay for concept art! (As seen left). Made by Karis. Pretty, non?

So I'm currently working through finishing my Time+Perspective brief, which is the Granny Squibb game I'm making with Karis and with lot of guidance from her partner on coding in Javascript. This is the first time I'm actually programming something or creating a game with the help of other people. There are three major problems we're working through right now:

1) Unity has trouble displaying transparency in movies when they're being used as textures, as it converts everything to Ogg Theora, which does not support alpha channels. So we're basically trying to "green screen" the movie in virtual space, and creating a shader which detects all the pink pixels in an object and makes them transparent.

2) I'm having trouble rotating things around a specified axis. Unity likes to rotate things around world space, so it makes it difficult to rotate things, specifically on a certain axis with respect to certain objects.

3) We still have a lot of art assets to work on, and as might be predicted, sound is not even beginning to be thunk about.

If I were to do this project again, I think I would have counted my eggs differently. I don't think I had very much time considering the amount of work I was doing on other briefs, so I don't think I could have done a whole lot better in terms of time management. And I'm working in a relatively new program with a relatively new language, so I don't think that's the best condition for taking on a project that's larger than any you've done before, and I don't think there's much I could have done to prepare coding-wise. One thing I should have monitored more carefully while doing the project, however, was the way I was labelling things I was putting in the project, and the way I was assuming unity could do the things stated above. Let's deal with these individually, and then I'm going back to work doublequick:

1) I labelled everything from the beginning as a "test" or "dummy" asset, and now I'm not really sure what the difference is between a dummy object and a real one. I think I should probably think about what my workflow is on this in the future.

2) I should have checked on the transparency issue before assuming and reassuring Karis that it could be done easily, as now it's crunch time and we've designed the assets in a way that assumes it's possible. Had I checked and learned how difficult it might have been, we might have just been able to design the assets in the exact shape they needed to be, eliminating the need for transparency. Also, I think we might have been able to make this game in flash, which would have saved time, and I should have checked that earlier. I did want to learn javascript, though...

Did I mention Karis' partner, James, is my savior? Back to church with me.

Monday, April 25

Re-entry into planet Valve.

Let's talk:

1. Portal 2 Review: 8/10.
2. The game Karis and I are making.
3. Conclusions drawn from 1 & 2.


So, this weekend, just before and just after going on my Easter camping trip in the Otways (brr), I played the new "oh my gosh I can't wait for it" game in my life, Portal 2. I've just completed it. It's certainly an epic, certainly a mythic cycle, and certainly a higher-quality production than the original. The voice acting has dramatically improved (even though the first game was light-years ahead of every other game I'd played in that department), thanks to the addition of mammoth talents J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant the scale has increased dramatically with minimal stretch-marks. That is, the original game took me about 3 hours to complete, and this one took about 7. The difficulty level was satisfying--still the same Portal-brand puzzles which are uncrackable until a moment of inspiration hits. I think the pacing suffered a bit in the beginning, but it's probably a result of people attempting to address the problem of players that are new to the world of the game.

ALL THIS: And yet I am unsatisfied! I found the "essence" of the game unchanged from the previous game, and the Source Engine...well, it's just not the shiny new pair of shoes it was when Half Life 2 came out. It still looks nice, but feels kind of clumsy. It's a "you can't walk there, so forget about it" kind of game much of the time, a feeling which the original Portal somehow avoided by making you feel like you could walk into more objects. Oh, and one more thing--yes, it's significantly higher quality than the original, but the original was something like 30% the size, if I remember correctly. I think the point of my mentioning that is that it represents a change I've seen in Valve products lately. Perhaps they're under new management--but they seem more focused on comedy and a kind of cartoonish realism than the "rawness" that worked really well for Half Life 2. Maybe it just feels like there's less risk-taking going on in their games, lately.


Tomorrow is crunch day for coding the lemonade-stand game that Karis and I are making. I'm going to be using Javascript and Unity to make a 2d game with assets that Karis is making. We're going for a paper cutout/giant Terry Gilliamesque head aesthetic. Hopefully it should all be done by Wednesday, provided Karis and James (a Javascript mastermind) and I can overcome any and all technical obstacles presented by my not having much practice with Javascript.


While preparing to make this (my first collaborative project where I'm going to be doing the majority of the coding, it's likely), I've been doing a lot of thinking about how the game is going to be not only completed, but worth the time of other people. While I do respect the many majabillions of brain cells being used to create absorbing content at flash game mills like Kongregate and Newgrounds, at the moment I'm more interested in how it's going to be different from all that, which I fear it will not be. Frankly, ice tea stands aren't  the new kid on the block in terms of video game genres, and we're not going to be trying to break the bank graphically. I think we'll chiefly be reaching into the future in the areas of unified graphic design (centered around a single idea) and platform. And this is just the first version of a game that will probably need to be reconsidered a lot of different ways and re-engineered to be fun before it's ready to be used by Granny Squibb. Ya dig(g)?

Wednesday, April 20

Scary stuff.

Computerized Evolution! Isn't this kind of an obvious precursor to the human race being overrun by superintelligent robots? It's like the video they show you about how the computers ever got so intelligent. Also, we shouldn't be shooting robots just to see how they react. That seems like a bad idea.

Friday, April 15

That special time.

Robot Drum Circle!

I was worried about my form + image project all week, and in the end, I couldn't get it to do what I wanted it to do. It was supposed to be a virtual drum circle that recorded the beats you made and then replayed them. Instead, what I ended up with was something that played one of 51 sounds when you pressed a key on the keyboard, and randomly cluttered the screen with pixellated animations when it did. I was pretty frustrated with the fact that I couldn't establish more depth, but I suppose that every project has a component that is not fully realized upon launch, and the end result is more of a function of your technical ability.

It also frustrated me that I couldn't spend more time thinking about the artistic elements of this piece, considering and reconsidering how to organize it visually, since I was impaired by my ability to use AS3 to code. I guess it's a learning process. I feel like our Hunters and Gatherers presenter this week presents a good means of thinking about it. He said that he's always frustrated when he can't figure out how to make code work, and that he dreams about the project, and then wakes up and seems to know how to do it. He also said that as a musician he feels that a programmable computer is like the ultimate, adaptable instrument, something that can be anything you can tell it how to do. In that way, I feel like AS3 is an extremely complicated (and possibly beautiful) instrument that I am totally inept at playing/using, and it keeps me up late at night, trying to figure out why I can't dream up a better solution to the problems I'm having.

In other news, I'm totally psyched about our group project, and I'll be acting as leader of the engine team. I'm working with four other people. We're responsible for taking the concept and the assets and making a real object out of them--implementation is the goal. I think the biggest challenge will be communicating with the other groups about what we can/cannot accomplish in the time. I'm happy to work with my team and try to get us all thinking about motion-sensing and face recognition, but figuring out to what degree we'll be able to do that, and then figuring out how we can use our knowledge to stretch what we accomplish will be the tricky part.

Time to prepare for my case study presentation!

Saturday, April 9

Let's go over this again.

I think I'm going to have to watch Harvey Birdman, season one and two. Again. Because now that I know the zeroith thing about animation, I think it's going to be interesting to see what they were doing in places like this:

Did I ever tell you Mentok The Mind Taker was my favorite animated character?

Wednesday, April 6

Two things for you to see!

Okay, so, there's an important time in the production process of any animation called "The End". Sometimes it comes when you least expect it. But it's always inevitable, and when you're done messing with an animation and need to move on to something else, you have reached that time. Never mind the fact that you accidentally deleted half of the drawings the day before it was due. NEVER MIND THAT. In any case, enjoy!

You can watch the animation here.

Hey! I've also uploaded a video tutorial I made with Camtasia a few days ago, about how to place text on the main camera using Javascript in the Unity game publishing platform. CZECH it out.

Monday, April 4

That weekday feeling.

So, we're rolling into the (fifth?) week of AIM. I have three kinds of information to present to you, depending on who you are. I have:

1. Personal information, and
2. Academic, animation and course-related information.
3. This video to the left here. I like it, particularly as it develops, towards the middle. I'll talk about it in purple later.

Let's start with the first category.

1. Things have been going pretty well lately. I haven't felt compelled to write very much about myself or post pictures, because so much of my life is just consumed by my studying. This isn't to say I haven't been enjoying myself otherwise. Tina's great (the best part about Australia, actually), we did some rock climbing last Friday, and we'll go again this week, with a camera and hopefully some more new friends. I've been on the lookout for new things to do, and I've felt kind of trapped in Melbourne (as in, I haven't been mountain climbing in Australia yet), but I'm eating lots of curry and feeling fine, day in, day out. 

Actually, exciting event: I don't know how many of you were aware of this, but Tina and I began an herb/veggie garden, and when we moved last week, we put it outside of our window (on the first floor) to get some sun. And within HALF AN HOUR, our prize BROCCOLI plant was STOLEN. I put out a missing vegetables report immediately, but the case was not cracked until yesterday, when Pierre, the man from flat 17, explained how grateful he was that we had given it away. GAH! What a guy. So, we'll get it back soon, hopefully. And Pierre seems like a cool guy. So maybe we'll have him over for some steamed veggies sometime.

Lastly, we're planning on coming to the US in June and July, so now I'm in the process of getting in touch with everyone and trying to find out if they want to hang. It's been a long time since I've been back, but I'm looking forward to seeing what became of everyone/everything.

2. Although I haven't been keeping up on POSTING my daily images, I have most certainly been drawing every day, and doing a lot of thinking about that drawing. Actually, most of my focus in the last few weeks hasn't been on the subject as much as the canvas--what program or medium I'm using to present what I've drawn. Learning Maya and Unity3d, finally getting around to exploring Flash CS5, Camtasia, and other technological craziness has been going on, and as a result, I haven't really been doing any drawing that's easily posted on the blog.

I feel like actually practicing animating something requires a lot of setup, and therefore I haven't actually done much sequential, let's-see-how-this-looks-when-played kind of work. But I think that mostly reflects the way I approach my work. I see all of my projects as these sort of ideas around which foundations must first be built--you have to level the land and plow the field before you can actually plant anything, if you catch my meaning. All my projects seem to demand that I invent some way of seeing them, some means of understanding the action I want to convey, and THAT in and of itself takes more time than anything else, including the production of the action. If you also add the implementation of some level of interactivity into all that, then you've got a big whopping project to do. Which reminds me, I really have to be going. Animation about a character and their behaviour/agency in two days.

3. I really enjoyed that animation up above because I think it plays with the idea of "showing and not telling" in an interesting way. The narrator/animator is showing us and telling us what he's interested in at the same time, and I think that really gets the message to the viewer differently than either the narrator or the animator could seperately. The way the action builds is also interesting--after the crescendo it devolves into something less interesting, and so (for me), the whole movie comes off as having a sort of organic tempo. I don't think that this style of video works for many things, but for presenting Labaye's idea of "the idea of motion being freedom", it works perfectly. Ya?

Friday, April 1

Coming along...

The last few days I've spent working on these game flow documents for the game that Lahta and I are making. Making them has allowed me to reflect on the actual scope of the project, and on the fact that it is WAY TOO LARGE TO COMPLETE IN THE GIVEN TIMEFRAME. So I think after I design this document, I'm going to have to scale it down. Any thoughts?